Gorgeous as many of New Zealand's offshore islands are, few offer private island experiences.
They're either lacking privacy (think, Waiheke and its boat-loads of summer visitors) or you're not allowed to stay there, as they're nature reserves or sanctuaries.
But little Pepin Island — wedged in between Cable Bay and Delaware Bay, about halfway between Nelson and the western Marlborough Sounds, is a true Kiwi-style island getaway. It's rugged, rural, takes a bit of effort to get there, and offers unobscured and unspoilt sea and mountain views.
Pepin Island's diminutive name belies the majesty of its steep interior that is classic sheep farming terrain. The island's Maori name is Momona Puku, meaning "big fat belly", which is more fitting for the folds and steep rise of the hills that climb up to 400 metres.
Around 100 cows and 1800 sheep live here, but only 12 human inhabitants.
A dirt road along a narrow causeway connects Pepin Island to the adjacent settlement of Cable Bay (so named because this is where New Zealand's first international cable was laid, to Sydney, in 1876). Signs at the entrance to the island warn that this is a private island, and trespassers will be prosecuted, but exceptions are made for guests of Pepin Island's three travellers' huts.
Nikau Hut, Passage Hut and Rocky Point Hut are best described as huts rather than cabins or chalets, as they are reminiscent of back country tramping huts. Or old-school beach-side baches up north.
My weekend accommodation was Nikau Hut, the most basic of the three options. Solar powered, with an outdoor shower and toilet, powered chilly-bin refrigeration, a gas hob for cooking, bunk beds, and requisite nikau palms and curious weka, two nights at Nikau Hut included the best parts of camping, but without the annoyances.
Most importantly, no leaky tents. The weather on the day we arrived alternated between drizzle and driving rain. Neither was much fun for walking uphill along a steep, muddy path for an hour, with weekend food supplies, to reach the hut. Oh, and a 3-year-old.
Fortunately, we hitched a ride with farm manager Andrew Newton, one of the few residents of Pepin Island, on his all-terrain farm vehicle. It would have been a great hike — albeit challenging — on a fine day, and is how most guests reach their respective huts.
The hike to Nikau Hut, on the eastern side of the island, is the most strenuous, as it goes up and over the island's saddle, not too far below the summit. The trails to Passage Hut, on the southeastern side, and Rocky Point Hut, in the north, are gentler.
Nikau Hut is the most basic, with an outdoor shower and beds for four guests. It's a tight squeeze, but ideal for couples or small families. It has great views of Delaware Bay and the Marlborough Sounds.
Passage Hut also has views of Delaware Bay and the Marlborough Sounds, which can be enjoyed from an outdoor hot-water bath. It sleeps two, plus space for camping. It's near a private swimming beach, and kayaks can be hired.
Rocky Point Hut is on a cliff overlooking Tasman Bay, an ideal spot for sunset-watching. It also has an outdoor bathtub, and sleeps two (adults only) with additional space for camping.
All three huts offer completely private experiences; once we were dropped off by Andrew, we didn't see another person until we made the reverse hike two days later. Just lots of curious calves and lambs, as it wasn't long since the farm had been closed to visitors for the lambing season.
Day one was rather a washout, which gave us ample excuse to polish off the luxurious cheese and fruit platter that welcomed us to Nikau Hut. It would have tasted even better if we had hiked there.
Waking up on day two, we were greeted by blue skies, and views down to Delaware Bay and all the way across to D'Urville Island, off the northern tip of the Marlborough Sounds.
Breakfast provisions of fruit, muesli, yoghurt and coffee were provided as part of the accommodation package, and after the previous day's fruit platter, we realised we had probably lugged too much of our own food with us from Nelson.
But, what better way to spend a day in private island seclusion than grazing and gazing out at the view with a good book? The land on one side of Nikau Hut is covered in native bush, and there are short trails for a gentle bushwalk, including a steep track down to a stony beach.
The good weather held for our walk back across the steep farmland the next day. After two days with only the wildlife for company, little Cable Bay seemed almost urban. A half-hour-drive later and we were back in Nelson, which is one of the Pepin Island huts' selling points: it's so easy to get to but feels so totally away from it all.
How to get to Pepin Island: From Nelson, follow State Highway 6 east of the city until the Cable Bay turnoff. Once at Cable Bay, keep driving across the causeway until you reach the gates to the entrance of Pepin Island. From there, cars can be left securely and the huts must be hiked to, or you can arrange an ATV transfer for an extra fee.